Paddling Britain book image

Paddling Britain: Sea Kayaking Carna

You may have seen that one of my photographs is in Lizzie Carr’s excellent new book ‘Paddling Britain’. However, I have a couple of variations to avoid conflict at her starting point. This will hopefully avoid any potential issues with the fish farm in Laga.

Due to an injury (a cycling incident), this blog post is not yet complete. I hope to paddle and record my version of the route. This way you will have a route map in this post as well. My apologies for not having this ready yet.

Sea kayaking near Carna
This is my image that was used in the Paddling Britain book to illustrate Lizzie Carr’s sea kayak around the Isle of Carna in Loch Sunart.

The picture was taken during a bespoke two-day sea kayak trip that I ran in 2016. We had made use of the winds to paddle up the Sound of Mull the day before and wild camped. After paddling through Loch na Droma Buidhe, we entered the waters near Carna. The western side of the Isle of Carna is in the top right. To the top left is land to the north of Loch Sunart.

Lizzie’s route starts at Laga where the map shows a jetty. There is indeed one there, but there may be issues with the fish farm using it. The road down is not great and quite steep with very little parking at the bottom. Rather than risk any issues, I avoid launching / landing in this area and use either Camas Torsa (near Salen) or Camas Fearna (near Glenborrodale).

Starting in Camas Torsa

Camas Torasa is a Forestry Commission site about one mile west of the small village of Salen. There is parking for about eight cars, although occasionally wild campers decide to use this during summer (there are more secluded areas nearby…) Midges can be a problem.

There is a jetty in Salen and the fantastic Salen Jetty Shop where you can stock up on essentials. They also have great coffee and cake (something you all know that I am in favour of).

Parking is very limited at the jetty, although there is ample parking back on the main road. Head right from the jetty into Salen, turn right onto the main road and park after the wooden house on the right. This lack of parking is why I choose to launch from Camas Torsa especially as I usually have a trailer.

Launching from Camas Torsa at moderately low water. The Forestry Commission car park is just behind the bushes at the top of the beach. Head about 4.5 km west from here to reach Dun Ghallain.

My chosen route: Camas Fearna

The other launching spot if Camas Fearna to the west of Glenborrodale. Again, there is a great coffee and cake (and more) in Glenborrodale. The Ardnamurchan Natural History Centre, almost opposite the Ardnamurchan Distillery, is well worth a stop.

Parking at Camas Fearna is limited, two or three cars adjacent to the road. This is not a passing place, so parking is not a hinderance to anyone else. Cross the road and you are onto the stoney beach.

Choose which direction you paddle this route according to the tide times and wind direction. I’ll describe it in a clockwise direction from Camas Fearna.

If in doubt, don’t go or hire a guide (me preferably) to go with you.

Head south east out of the bay and into Loch Sunart passing a couple of bays, including Glenborrodale. You’ll be able to see the Natural History Centre, but it is not accessible from the water. Decide which side of Risga you want to go. Most marine traffic heads to the north. I’d choose to go south and see Ross Rock as well (at low water).

From Risga you have almost 4 km of paddling to reach Dun Ghallain. You’ll pass close to the northern tip of the Isle of Carna on the way. As you pass it, look back over your right shoulder. This is where you’ll be heading later to round Carna.

Dun Ghallain is the seat of the story as to why there are no swans on Loch Sunart. Either buy Lizzie’s book, or come on a trip with me and I’ll tell you! It’s not very big, but worth a short stop and a visit. The views west along Sunart towards Carna are amazing at sunset…

Dun Ghallain from the eastern side where there is a sheltered bay (Port nan Eun). The ‘dun’ is on top of the highest rocky island. Don’t expect too much – it is tiny, but still impressive.

Launch your boats and head west now back towards Carna. Cross to the south shore whenever you feel appropriate. The shoreline will guide you into the east of Carna and south towards Teacuis.

Ben Resipole in the background as you leave Dun Ghallain.
Leaving Dun Ghallain behind on a cold winters day after the first snows on Ben Resipole and heading west for the first time.

Tidal flows can be strong, but not extreme, here if you are not used to them. The outflow from Teacuis may create up to 6 knots at its peak. My route heads round the south of Carna and along its western shores avoiding anything more than 3-4 knots of flow.

Loch na Droma Buidhe with Carna in the background.
The sheltered waters between Carna and Oronsay may get up to 3 or 4 knots of tidal flow on Spring tides. Plan your route an time accordingly. It isn’t especially dangerous in a kayak, but can be quite tiring if you get it wrong! This was taken on an anti-clockwise version of this route and is in Loch na Droma Buidhe heading towards the tidal beach at Doirlinn.

Do watch out for common seals as there are at least two colonies in these channels. Give them a wide berth, especially during pupping season. If you do not know the signs of a seal become distressed by your presence, then read up on it before going. There have been cases locally where seal populations have decreased due to disturbance from boats, including sea kayaks. I would hate to see the populations in Loch Sunart decline in the same way. I already fear for the colony on the islands at Ardery…

If you have your tidal planning right, you will be able to kayak through the gap at Doirlinn on Oronsay and into Loch nan Droma Buidhe. You can carry across, but it can be up to 250m at low water.

When I paddle this route again, I’ll get some actual figures on depths needed to get a sea kayak through this gap and update this blog. The marine charts I have are not detailed enough to show the drying height of this gap.

Aside from the seals, you stand a good chance of seeing an otter. Don’t forget to look in the water as well – crabs, starfish, brittle stars, etc. all abound in these waters.

Once in Loch na Droma Buidhe, keep heading west and out into open water near the head of Loch Sunart. From here you have a three km crossing due north to Camas Fearna. Do check that you are heading north and the bays look fairly similar (assuming you have enough visibility to see the north shore).

If you have made good progress and are ahead of schedule, you may wish to visit a sandy beach. In which case, aim slightly west. The village of Ardslignish sits on a promontory above Camas Ban. If the tide is in, you’ll not see much sand though. When I have drying heights I’ll update this blog.

Once back at Camas Fearna, you’ll have paddled around 20 km (if you made a straight-line). You will also have had a fantastic day out in an amazing place.

Please do be mindful of the wildlife. Do also check the tide times and weather forecasts very carefully. If in any doubt, do not go. Carna will always be there…

Can I do this?

If you have a reasonable level of fitness, the ‘yes’.

But not necessarily all in one day.

Not all of you will want a long day in a kayak. Most of you will probably want time spent watching wildlife. Or drifting with the tides. Or just soaking in the stunning scenery.

In which case, I can guide you on a two day journey exploring Loch Sunart and the Isle of Carna. This will be tailored to your abilities and aspirations. If you have family, this makes a fantastic opportunity to see wildlife, possibly wild camp and generally spend a weekend together.

If you fancy this, get in touch and we can discuss wether it is suitable and how to tailor it to your group.